When the Medieval Church had three popes at the same time.
One pope, two pope, three pope more!


If a Pope and an Antipope collide, do they cancel each other out and both vanish?

An Antipope is someone who sets himself up as a rival pope or imposter.


It must be good to be the pope; there’ve been at least 42 Antipopes.

Between 1378 and 1417, three popes actually reigned at the same time.

“We will have a Roman pope or at least an Italian.”

The ordination of the first Pope of the Western Schism in 1378 was rather rowdy.

After 70 years of French papacy, Italians really wanted a pope in Rome.

An Italian mob shouted: “We will have a Roman pope or at least an Italian.”

Some made their point by breaking into the room below the Cardinals and jabbing spears up through its floor.

The Cardinals responded sharpish by electing Bartolomeo Prignano, who took the name Urban VI.

They quickly regretted it when it turned out their bae was a reformist.

Urban became known as a tactless sort of pope.

Tactless if you’re a worldly, corrupt Cardinal, that is.

His violent outbursts of temper probably didn’t help his cause, though.

When he caught wind of a conspiracy to depose him he had six cardinals arrested, tortured and ultimately executed.

Legend has it he complained to the torturers that the Cardinals’ screams were not loud enough.

The cardinals declared his election void on the grounds that it had been dictated by mob violence.

They elected one of their own, Clement VII, as pope and installed him in Avignon, France.

Urban was immediately excommunicated by the French Antipope and dubbed “the Antichrist”.

Raise you an Antipope

Europe was divided, with Northern and central Italy, most of Germany, Scandinavia, and England on the side of Urban VI.

France, Spain, Scotland, the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily stood by the pope in Avignon.

Others just listened to whichever pope was convenient for them at the time.

The solution seemed clear: just wait for one pope to die.

Clement VII finally obliged in 1394.

But the Avignon Court just elected a successor – bringing us back to 2 popes.

Not to be outdone, the Council of Pisa saw their two popes and raised it to three.  

They deposed both Benedict XIII and Gregory XII (the new Roman pope) and elected a new pope, Alexander V.

Alexander V had the decency to die just over a year later, but then, of course, the Pisa court elected yet another pope, John XXII.

John XXII was barely even a priest (ordained one day before becoming pope) and was almost certainly a scoundrel.

He made the mistake of calling an ecumenical council, thinking there was no way he could lose.

When things looked like they weren’t going his way, John tried to escape disguised as a letter carrier.

They caught him, though, and then secured his and Gregory’s resignations.

When Benedict refused to step down, they excommunicated him, for real this time.

We finally had one pope to rule then all – Martin V.

Antipopes didn’t die out in the Middle Ages

There are at least six people today claiming to be the real Pope.

The reason they’re usually not called Antipopes is that individually none of them have many followers.

One of the best-known, who calls himself “Pope Michael”, says he has approximately 30 “solid” followers.

He was “elected” by six people  – including his mother.

His church has excommunicated all the viewers of Jesus Christ Superstar. And they’ve canonized Adolf Hitler (now San Adolfo) and Francisco Franco.

The Roman Catholic Church calls them schismatics, and as such, they’re automatically excommunicated.

Some even believe Pope Francis to be an Antipope.


I  prefer the theory that an Antipope is just the regular Pope traveling backward in time.

Time-traveling popes, corrupt Cardinals, Medieval schism…

Are you seeing what I’m seeing- the greatest ever Dr. Who episode?

If you’d like this article, check out this one on Medieval swearing or find out how Medieval people felt about red hair (not good).


Hats off to the scholarly and hilarious article on the three popes by Luke T. Harrington.


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